Best Islands to Live On: Curacao

Why Curaçao? The Caribbean may be a big, blue melting pot, but in Curaçao, the ingred- ients blend especially well here. It's a Dutch island, part of the Netherlands Antilles, but it lies just 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, a bit of geographical serendipity that adds a dash of Latin spice. Witness the architecture in the capital city of Willemstad: It's Dutch traditional but painted in brilliant pastel hues that would have never passed muster in the motherland.Life of an "Expat" "We decided to try it for a year -- it was purely a temporary thing," says Jennifer van Grieken, who left Miami to relocate with her husband, Chris, to his native Curaçao. Chris, a University of Miami graduate, had a very simple business plan -- introducing aluminum rain gutters to the island -- and that business ended up being very good. Jennifer, a school teacher, landed a job soon after her arrival. View Larger Map
She now teaches math at the International School of Curaçao, where her daughter attends kindergarten and her son is finishing up second grade. "We have students from more than 39 countries," Jennifer says. "My kids have been exposed to so much, and they're not just learning about it in class. They have friends who are Indian, friends who are Muslim." When school's out, the island's many extracurricular activities are close at hand. "There are so many neat things to do," says Jennifer. "The beaches are beautiful, so there are lots of water activities. Curaçao's a big dive spot, and the school has a dive club." The kids especially enjoy hiking the island's mountainous interior, while Chris, an avid runner and cyclist, competes in triathlons. "The running and biking communities here are incredible," Jennifer says. "Every week there is a different race." At home, the family spends much of their time outdoors. "We have a great backyard," Jennifer says. "We can find our house on Google Earth because we have a big tree. It's a knip tree, and it's gargantuan. We built a deck around it. We spend as much time outside as we do inside." As to the future, Jennifer hopes to watch her kids graduate from the International School. Beyond that, she knows plans can change. "We were not planning on staying here forever," she says. "But now I don't picture moving back to the States." ** Your New Home** * $ Renovated two-bedroom home set amid fruit and palm trees has a decked garden. $165,000 * $$ Three-bedroom home is only minutes from the Porto Marie and Cas Abao beaches. $261,000 * $$$ Three-bedroom, three-level villa has 360-degree view with pool and tropical gardens. $950,000 * Find more real-estate listings at realestate-curacao.com.Facts of Life * Climate: Tropical * Population of island: 140,000 * Percentage expats: 5% * Population of main town: Willemstad, 125,000 * House starting price: $100s * Travel from U.S.: Nonstop flights include American Airlines from Miami and Delta from Atlanta. * Closest hospital: Willemstad * Price of local beer: $2 for Amstel * Languages spoken: Papiamentu, Dutch, English, Spanish * Ease of immigration: Easy * Ease of buying a home: Easy * Website: curacao.comExplore More * Find more islands to live or retire on at islands.com/live. * Download a printable itinerary guide and map with reviews by ISLANDS editors.